Disney Swan Resort Renovation

Where Value and Luxury Disney World Meet

 

 

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

Maybe everyone is attached to the place they stayed when they visited Disney World for the first time. After learning of the Disney Swan Resort renovation of the guest rooms, I knew we had to return to see how it fares against the high-end options around the Walt Disney World Resort we have tried.

Our first trip as a family was in 2011 when I was six months pregnant with our five-year-old in tow. We decided, like many people, to cash and some Starwood Preferred Guest points and stay at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort for a few nights on our way to grandma’s.

My daughter began a saying during that trip that we still repeat when we see the Michael Graves building: “Where the swans looks like swans and the dolphins look like catfish.”

 

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is not an official Disney World hotel. It’s fair to say they are the most Disney of the non-Disney hotels, but they are Starwood properties specializing in business conferences and meetings. The Swan corresponds to the Westin brand while the Dolphin is considered a Sheraton property.

Rooms at the Swan and Dolphin require 10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points per night, though, of the two, the Swan is smaller and much nicer. If you are paying in dollars, the Swan and Dolphin are priced typically between $150 and $300 per night.

The Swan location

The Swan location is flawless, as guests can easily walk to the back entry of Epcot near the France section of the International Showcase, and water shuttles are available to Hollywood Studios.

The best perk is that the Swan and Dolphin are adjacent to Disney’s Beach Club, Yacht Club, and Boardwalk, giving Swan guests numerous dining options on foot. Families can rent a surrey to pedal around the circular path connecting all the hotels, though there is one bridge that you may need to get out and push a little.

Our favorite destinations include the Flying Fish Café in the Disney Boardwalk and Beaches and Cream at the Beach Club for ice cream and burgers.

 

It is very easy to catch the Hollywood Studios fireworks every night from the Swan’s fountain outside the front entrance. Epcot’s fireworks can be seen from the back of the hotel.

It’s the most central location in all of the Disney resort, though the Magic Kingdom is a good bus ride away.

The Disney Swan Resort Renovation 

The Disney Swan resort renovation started with the rooms. They received a complete makeover that was very needed. We won’t dwell on the past when there is a new beginning.

The best rooms are the Deluxe Family Rooms, offering a sitting area with sofa bed. Some of these are corner rooms with fantastic views of the Dolphin and Crescent Lake while others have no view to enjoy.

The shades of blue, white, and gray dominate the new décor accented with cheery primary color art. The bathrooms have been fully upgraded to resemble a new Westin property. The rooms come with a mini fridge and a small Mr. Coffee machine.

There were still signs of the old when I asked for bedding for the sofa. The torn blanket that arrived was one of the paper-thin, polyester-style blankets made in the ‘70s. I called and requested one of their Heavenly Bed duvets, and all was well.

Disney Amenities

The Swan and Dolphin’s Disney amenities are nearly identical to the Disney resorts, with two distinctions: no free airport transfers via the Magical Express and no Magic Bands mailed to guests (nor are they used as room keys or charge cards). And, annoyingly, the resort does charge a daily self-parking fee, unlike Disney resorts, so work that into your transportation budget.

Given that so many great restaurants are reachable by foot, this is one resort I would say is worth the car service instead of a car rental.

Fast Passes and Magic Bands for Swan and Dolphin Guests

The best bonus is that Swan and Dolphin guests are treated like Disney resort guests with the same 60 days prior to check in to book their Fast Pass reservations online at My Disney Experience.

You must link your Swan confirmation number into the My Disney Experience account a few days prior to ensure the system properly recorded it. I had a technical challenge and upon calling the hotel, I was impressed that there was a special voice prompt for this feature; the staff member who answered helped me instantly.

Magic Bands are fantastic and recommended when visiting the parks. Swan guests must buy Magic Bands on their own for entering the park and storing Fast Pass information. Buy them online or at any Disney store at the airport or hotel; you can link them to your my Disney Experience account yourself.

Park Transportation at the Swan and Dolphin

As I mentioned, Hollywood Studios and Epcot are within reach by foot, though a decent walk for non-urban dwellers. Boat shuttles launch in between the Swan and Dolphin to provide water transport to both parks. The Swan and Dolphin also use official Disney Buses, and they run continuously every 15-20 minutes to the various parks, Disney Springs, and the water parks.

On our first trip to the Swan we were frustrated by how long we waited for the bus for the Early Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom and hopped into a cab. On our recent trip, we experienced great karma, and the bus to the Magic Kingdom pulled in as we arrived at the stop, and our return trip that night was effortless.

The Swan and Dolphin Restaurants

The Swan and Dolphin each have restaurants at every price point. The Swan’s signature restaurants are Kimonos, a Japanese restaurant that offers sushi and late-night karaoke, and Il Mulino, the New York-based Italian restaurant.

 

The most surprising restaurant at the Swan for me was Garden Grove. Garden Grove offers a character meal on certain days, so we had always avoided it. We went for the breakfast buffet on a day that was not offering a character experience, and it was, hands-down, my favorite breakfast on any Disney vacation.

The buffet was exceptional and included an all-you-can-drink fresh pressed juice station with three different fruit and vegetable blends. I think between me and my two children there were fourteen empty juice glasses. Call it our Disney detox.

Made-to-order omelets, hot cereals with every possible nut and seed for garnish, pastries, and bagels fill out the rest of the offerings. The Swan also has a Java Bar, a coffee kiosk which also offers the same fresh juices and pastries. The Dolphin features what Disney World resorts call “quick service” restaurants. Pikabu serves casual fare cafeteria-style, and an ice cream shop always draws crowds.

Blue Zoo at the Dolphin

Todd English’s signature restaurant Blue Zoo focuses mainly on fish. We ordered the house specialty, dancing fish, but it wasn’t until we left that we saw fish dancing, slow roasting with pirouettes, on display.

The dancing fish of the day is filleted and deboned tableside, and it was exceptional, making my miso-glazed mero good but pale in comparison. The dancing fish side items were also outstanding: celery root purée and the ever-present Todd English ingredient, figs.

Dessert was incredibly memorable, worthy of its own film: a chocolate globe, concealing vanilla ice cream underneath, is stacked on a tower of chocolate torte and cinnamon apples. The server pours hot chocolate sauce on top as the globe melts before your eyes.

You will not feel like sharing with your sweet spouse who you usually are so generous with, so I suggest you get your own.

The dinner was definitely one of our favorites at Walt Disney World for a good meal. I would rank it at the top with California Grill at the Contemporary Resort and Capa at the Four Seasons. Our children were at the nearby Camp Dolphin happily watching Big Hero 6.

Free Kids’ Club at the Swan and Dolphin

The kids club, Camp Dolphin, offers two free complementary hours for adults who order entrées at either hotel’s signature restaurants or receive a spa treatment of sixty minutes or more.

This is the only free childcare option in the Walt Disney Word resort for a parent’s date night dinner, and this applies to all dinner guests even if you are staying elsewhere.

The kids’ club was straightforward and fell short in programming compared to other full-service resorts we visit. It’s definitely a place for kids to watch a movie, play video games or draw while the staff text on their phones. Camp Dolphin’s daytime program may be more structured and involved.

My kids tolerated the evening just fine, regardless, and produced several colored sheets of Disney characters with loving messages to us, so it certainly wasn’t a bad experience.

The Swan and Dolphin Pool Areas

The Swan has its own pool immediately next to the building, but if you’re willing to walk a few more yards down the sandy path past the playground or the Swan paddle boats, you’ll be rewarded with an excellent resort pool at the Dolphin that walks the line between family and adult fun very well.

 

Everything is here: beautiful waterfalls, water slides, caves and grottoes, sleek communal bungalows that offer poolside service, and kiosks to rent large kid inflatables.

We spent one leisurely day at the pool bungalows chatting with a lovely couple from Miami while eating each of our children’s leftover grilled cheese crusts.  They had season passes to Disney World and stay at the Swan every few months because of its pool. They said they have tried every resort and that this one is their favorite.

Swan and Dolphin Fitness and Spa

The Dolphin has a Mandara Spa, the same company that the Loews Universal resorts use and the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. Both resorts have a a fitness center, and there are jogging tracks, tennis courts, volleyball courts, and swan paddle boats to rent in Crescent Lake. Active adults have plenty of options for exercise. The Swan offers the Westin fitness amenity of loaner sneakers from New Balance, so that you can add a workout if you didn’t pack gym shoes.

The Swan is a value choice for luxury travelers

The Walt Disney World Swan is not a luxury hotel, but within the Walt Disney World Resort, the rules change. I don’t make my opinion secret that service at the Disney operated hotels is very hit or miss. The Swan staff is trained adhering to Starwood standards set higher than those in Lake Buena Vista.

The dated lobby is next in the renovation, and will continue making the Swan an appealing choice. Combining the new room renovation with the existing strengths of the Swan resort (restaurants, pool areas, location, Disney amenities), I think it makes a solid choice for value if a Westin resort is luxe enough for you.

And if a family has the 60,000 Starwood Points to spare, there’s at least $1,200 of found money to be spent in other ways on a six-night Disney World vacation: park tickets, airfare, a VIP park escort, a couple’s half-day at the spa, or the smug satisfaction that you budget your Disney vacations well.

Although we were guests of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, these opinions are completely my own.

Join the Luxury Disney World Facebook group by clicking the image below if we can answer your questions when planning your next Disney vacation.

 

18 Responses
  • Lillie
    February 22, 2016

    Your site continually astounds and inspires me with how thorough and beautiful it is. This hotel hadn’t even been on my radar, but now it is. Thank you!

  • Kirsten
    February 22, 2016

    We stayed here about 8 years ago. Looks like they have made a lot of changes for the better. Hopefully we will have a chance to check it out soon because the location is great and the fact they have access to the Disney parks is a big plus!

  • Lisa Goodmurphy
    February 23, 2016

    Great review! We have driven past the Swan many times and I have always wondered what it was like. I honestly didn’t know that it had such a central location – that is definitely a selling point. And I would love to try those swan paddle boats!!

  • Terumi
    February 24, 2016

    One of these days we will head to Disney World, so I love reading about their hotels. The dessert pictures and swan boats make me want to stay here:)

  • Nichola - Globalmouse
    February 24, 2016

    Oh my goodness, what an amazing looking hotel!! I know where I’ll be looking at when we make it to Florida!!

  • Dana
    February 25, 2016

    The renovated rooms looks great and I love the colorful exterior.

  • Claudia
    February 25, 2016

    Wow, that is an amazing Disney resort property. The rooms look fabulous, as does the food. It seems really huge, was than an issue?

    • Robin
      February 25, 2016

      Actually compared to some Disney Resorts, it is small in that the walk from the lobby to the room is very short. There is only one building for rooms. The grounds are spread out between the two properties, though.

  • Kimberly @ Stuffed Suitcase
    February 26, 2016

    Absolutely love your photos Robin. Our family enjoyed our time at the Swan and Dolphin and would recommend it for families wanting to be on property but not overwhelmed by Disney.

  • You and your blog are becoming my go-to resource as we plan our family’s first Disney trip for later this year. We’re still debating whether we’ll stay on Disney property, so we’ll add Swan Resort to the discussion. Also, the dolphins look like catfish? I died 🙂

  • Daphne
    March 8, 2016

    I am earning Starwood Preferred Points to stay at the Swan or Dolphin on our next Disney trip. When you use points to buy the room, do you have to pay a resort fee and a parking fee? Or is it just a parking fee? Also you said you have to buy magic bands if you stay there, you don’t have to actually buy magic bands do you, can’t you just use a paper ticket?

    • Robin
      March 8, 2016

      Hi Daphne! There is a parking fee that SPG guests must pay, but I don’t think there is currently a resort fee. Self parking is $18 per day. You do not have to buy magic bands to get into the parks, but there are no longer paper tickets, and the room key like cards are what you would have to use. As a Disney parking going minimalist, I feel that the $12 for the band to use to enter all the rides is well worth it since they are hard to lose. And if you lose them, the park will instantly replace them and reload your information on them from My Disney Experience. For more questions, be sure to join the Luxury Disney World Facebook Group. Lots of info there, too!

    • group!
  • Daphne
    March 8, 2016

    Thanks for the info!

  • Theresa Ominiabohs
    March 13, 2016

    very informative. Thank you.

  • Tara
    March 31, 2016

    This location needed a revamp. I had stayed last year and the room I stayed in smelled musty and the carpeted floor was damp. I love SPG so I’ll be happy to give this location another chance. The paid parking part did suck though, but the free child care during dinner makes up for it!

  • Leigh Powell Hines
    April 12, 2016

    Fabulous story, Robin. They have definitely come along way since I stayed there. Great write-up. Leigh

  • Leslie
    March 4, 2017

    how old do kids need to be use the kids club at the swans restaurants?

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